Deadly NC twisters leave devastation

Volunteers working to clean up following tornadoes that damaged hundreds of homes.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | KENLY, NC | November 16, 2008

"The community has already pulled together to get everything right back on track"

—Derrick Duggins, Emergency Management Johnston County

In addition to the sound of worship music on Sunday morning, this community was filled with the buzz of chainsaws and rumbling trucks as members of the Baptist Men's Association and the Mormon Helping Hands took on the task of clearing debris and trees from the homes that were damaged by deadly tornadoes that hit the community Saturday morning.

The members of the Helping Hands program, in their trademark yellow shirts, traveled from across the region with chainsaws and trucks to make fast work of the trees that had fallen on houses and across roads. The Baptist Men's Association is also doing cleanup work as well as preparing hot meals for those in need and those who are volunteering.

Derrick Duggins, the emergency management coordinator for Johnston County, has his share of natural disasters, but he said the "massive destruction" caused by this tornado was some of the worst he has seen. Brick homes were reduced to piles of red pebbles. Personal items were deposited hundreds of yards from the homes from which they were picked up. A wide path of destruction pulled huge trees from the ground and tossed them atop roofs and power lines.

"It goes to show the magnitude of what natural weather can do," he said.

The quiet of early Saturday in eastern North Carolina was shattered by deadly tornadoes that ripped through Johnston and Wilson counties.

After the storms passed, two people were dead, 12 homes were completely destroyed and hundreds more were damaged.

An American Red Cross shelter was opened at the Freewill Baptist Church in Kenly, but closed by 8:30 p.m. Most people in this rural community went to stay with family or friends.

Maryland Gomez, 61, was killed when the tornado left all but the front porch of her home a shattered pile of rubble. Her husband, like others whose homes were crushed, was treated and released from the hospital with non life-threatening injuries. Joshua Wiggins, 11, was also killed when the storm's 130 mile an hour winds flattened his family's home.

Progress Energy has already restored power to all the homes where it was safe to do so. Workers have shut off power to the homes where damage was too extensive to repair and to lines that pose a safety hazard to those trying to recover bits of their lives from their destroyed homes.

Porter said that he believes that long term recovery planning can begin as early as the end of the week as everyone will be settled into a place from which they can begin the task of finding a permanent place to live.

"The community has already pulled together to get everything right back on track," he said. "That's the beauty of a place like this."

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